Did you know that a non-stick Teflon pan, when heated, gives off certain chemical fumes which have been known to kill pet birds? The question you should be asking is: If it can kill a bird, what is it doing in my kitchen?
Now, there's more bad news about this ‘bird-killing toxin’ that's undoubtedly in your home — and in your bloodstream, too. In fact, it's in the bloodstream of almost every single one of us. (It’s even been found in the blood of marine life and Arctic polar bears!)
The chemical used in Teflon that causes the problems is called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). New research findings continue to corroborate the health hazards of this modern-day "convenience."
A Convenience or a Curse?
Teflon was an "accidental" invention by a chemist in 1938. He was trying to make a refrigerant and instead came up with the non-reactive, low-friction substance known as “polytetrafluoroethylene” (PTFE) — popularly known as Teflon.
Since then, PTFE has been employed as a coating on pots, pans, wiper blades, curling irons, stain-resistant carpets, and even microwave popcorn bags — just to name a few chemical-laced modern-day conveniences.
The chemical PFOA is a key ingredient in Teflon (PTFE). PFOA, (also known as C8), is a carcinogen (i.e. may cause cancer), is toxic to animals, and persists in the environment indefinitely (i.e. not bio-degradable).
By now, a large majority of the general population in the world has traces of PFOA in their bloodstream (and this number is growing as more and more people can afford these “conveniences”). People who work in chemical plants or live near chemical plants probably have much higher levels than everybody else.
A Long-term Offender:
We've known for a while that Teflon was a likely health offender. The fact that Teflon fumes kill birds was our first clue. For instance,
When a Teflon-lined oven was used to bake biscuits at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, an owner reported the death of his parrots.
When four stovetop burners lined with Teflon drip pans were preheated for a meal, 14 birds died within15 minutes.
And when Teflon-coated heat lamp bulbs were installed in chicken pens, half of the chicken population passed away within a few days.
Our next clue was the health concerns voiced by workers at the DuPont Washington Works plant in the Mid-Ohio Valley in the USA. DuPont paid out a $300 million settlement in response to a class action lawsuit from plant workers and those who live near the plant in Ohio and West Virginia. Their complaint was that DuPont contaminated their drinking water with PFOA.
If a corporation settles a lawsuit, one always suspects they were in the wrong, but you can't be sure. There wasn't a proven link between cancer and PFOA ... until now.
No such thing as an "acceptable" toxic level:
Because of the allegations in that West Virginia and Ohio region, a panel of public health scientists has been monitoring the long-term health of the community through epidemiologic and other data. The panel was approved by DuPont as part of the class action lawsuit over PFOA.
The evidence they've found is chilling. The low-but-constant levels of PFOA consumed by residents in their drinking water have increased the rates of kidney and testicular cancer. For kidney cancer, risk is up by a shocking 170 percent. Thyroid cancer may also be affected by PFOA.
That same panel of independent scientists found another hair-raising health link last year. Their findings showed a link between PFOA and preeclampsia (a condition during pregnancy that can have catastrophic consequences for both the mother and the fetus). And they recently found a link between PFOA and both thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis.
A global phase-out is the sensible thing to do:
Eight major U.S. companies, including DuPont, formed a voluntary pact to "virtually" eliminate the use of PFOA by 2015. The pact was put together by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to drastically reduce the shocking extent to which PFOA shows up everywhere (Even your pizza box is coated with PFOA!).
According to DuPont, they have come up with new alternatives that are made with short chain chemistry that cannot break down into PFOA." However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), points out "Had DuPont done sufficient human safety testing before bringing this product into commerce, they would have found this chemical was unfit for commercial production and use."
DuPont isn't the only offender that's been using this chemical, though it's the only current American maker of PFOA. Many companies all over the world continue to produce and use it.
All you can really do at this point is make an effort to avoid the stuff as much as possible. This means staying away from Teflon-coated cookware, or anything that's heat-resistant or non-stick. Clothes are also possible offenders, so avoid buying anything labeled wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, or waterproof.
Go back to cooking in mud pots and stainless steel cookware and wearing cottons. Don’t wait for a global phase-out of Teflon...it may be a long time coming.